Students' Mental Health in School
Students' mental health is an important consideration that every educational institution should be trained for and ready to handle. Online schools should be just as prepared as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The effects of online learning on students' mental health need to be understood and considered to best support the well-being of students of all ages.
What is mental health?
Mental health refers to much more than simply the absence of mental health disorders or mental illness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "mental health is a state of well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn and work well, and contribute to their community."1
Why is mental health important for students?
Stronger mental health for students means they can learn better and be more likely to realize the full potential of their abilities. Students’ mental health in school is a crucial part of the education system. Ultimately, students with positive mental health can build relationships more effectively, make decisions, and work together. These positive effects support the individual student and their larger community as they enter adulthood.
How K12-Powered Schools Support the Mental Health of Students
At K12-powered schools, we take the mental health of online students seriously. Through various tactics and resources, we work to prevent many common mental health challenges students may encounter in their learning environments.
Recognize early warning signs of mental health challenges
Offer flexibility for bandwidth and family circumstances
Provide opportunities for open discussion
Understand that students are unique and bring different strengths and weaknesses
Teach to the student, not the subject
Humanize remote learning and relieve anxiety and stress
Identify introverted students and make an extra effort to support them
Remain aware of political and societal issues outside of school that may affect students
Impacts of Online Learning on Students' Mental Health
Parents often ask how online learning affects students' mental health. At K12, we understand the importance of promoting and protecting students and recognize the many benefits of an online classroom. Some benefits that support student mental health and well-being include:
Reduced Instances of Bullying
Some may worry that online learning increases instances of cyberbullying, and bullying and cyberbullying do have the same impact on students' mental health. According to the WHO, "bullying is a leading risk factor for mental health conditions."
Studies show, however, that online education significantly reduced bullying. In fact, according to a Brown University study, cyberbullying was reduced by as much as 40 percent, despite the added time spent online.2
Greater Flexibility in Daily Schedule and Pace
The environment of an online classroom provides students, their families, and their teachers with additional flexibility and accessibility outside of scheduled class times. Students with rigorous travel schedules or medical appointments can attend school with less interruption. They can attend with the same friends, teachers, and environment. This flexibility can help reduce stressors related to aligning schedules or falling behind in coursework. In addition, the personalized approach of online school allows students more control over their pace and advancement. When they encounter a more challenging topic, they can spend more time on it. When they encounter a subject they grasp more easily, they can move along quicker. This can help students feel more confident and in control of their academics.
Reduced Feelings of Anxiety
Some students may experience reduced anxiety when they can attend school from home. There is less rushing to get out the door, less social pressure, and more time spent in a familiar environment they can control. If students work better with music in the background or concentrate best outside, they can set up their workspace to incorporate these things that help them learn.
Less Peer Pressure
Students who learn from home also experience less pressure from their peers. While some peer influences can be positive, negative peer pressure commonly pushes students toward poorer decisions. Reduced peer pressure can help students stick to their own beliefs and convictions, also allowing them to strengthen their sense of self.
Opportunities for Families to Learn Together
Online school allows parents and families greater access to their student's education. This unique involvement means families can learn together, creating a stronger bond and supporting a more effective education. When parents are more involved in their child's education, they can intervene and offer encouragement in ways not always possible with a traditional brick-and-mortar school.
Supported Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
The tools available to teachers for SEL are more advanced for online schools powered by K12, allowing them to help amplify student voices and empower students to vocalize their thoughts and expand their perspectives. They can support social-emotional development through these tools, increasing empathy and self-awareness.3
How does mental health affect students?
Students' mental health during online learning can be both positively and negatively affected by various factors. The mental health of students can affect their education, social life, and emotional well-being. Students struggling with mental health may experience more significant challenges throughout school and adulthood, while those not struggling may have a greater zest for their education, social experiences, and more.
Students with Positive Mental Health
Students with Positive Mental Health
Students who receive the support they need from their families, schools, and other social circles tend to be eager and excited to participate in social events and extracurricular activities. They may have a greater interest in their studies, retain information more effectively, and progress steadily toward graduation as they grow socially, emotionally, and academically.
Students with Poor Mental Health
Students with Poor Mental Health
Students experiencing poor mental health may be dealing with depression, stress, anxiety, addictive conditions, or aggressive behavior. Students may be distracted or uninterested, affecting their ability to learn material presented in the classroom. Some behavior that may indicate a student is struggling with their mental health include:
Low concentration: students with poor mental health may find it challenging to concentrate, making it harder for them to understand concepts
Low achievement: students with poor mental health may retain less of what they learn, impacting their studies and achievements
Less engagement: students with poor mental health may be less likely to engage in their studies, leading to lower attendance levels and less participation
Stunted progress: students with poor mental health may have a difficult time picturing their futures, which can lead to dropping out or other missed opportunities
Less social growth: students with poor mental health may be less engaged with their peers, both in and outside the classroom
Low enthusiasm: students with poor mental health may also have low energy levels, affecting their ability or desire to participate in fun activities
NOTE: There are a variety of reasons students may exhibit these behaviors that may or may not be related to mental health.
Discover the Benefits of Online School for Mental Health
If online learning is the right choice for your student, K12-powered schools can support positive experiences for students’ mental health during online learning. If you have any other questions, please reach out to us.
1World Health Organization. “Mental Health: Strengthening Our Response.” www.who.int, 30 Mar. 2018, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response#:~:text=Mental%20health%20is%20a%20state.
2Bacher-Hicks, Andrew, etc al. The COVID-19 Pandemic Disrupted Both School and Cyberbullying. www.edworkingpapers.com/sites/default/files/ai21-436.pdf, 10.26300/7jy7-x816.
3”Building Social-Emotional Skills with Technology: How to Use SEL to Cultivate Digital Wellness.” The Digital Wellness Lab, 8 Nov. 2021, digitalwellnesslab.org/articles/building-social-emotional-skills-with-technology-how-to-use-sel-to-cultivate-digital-wellness/.